Heavy rains of Irene bring flooding danger

Posted August 27, 2011 6:24 a.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2011 7:39 p.m. EDT

— Heavy rain from Hurricane Irene reached as far west as Durham County Saturday afternoon and local downpours brought the danger of flash floods to counties in the northeast quadrant of the state.

Flood watches and warnings are in effect for dozens of counties until Saturday evening. Almost 5 inches of rain fell in Greenville before 3 p.m. About 3 1/2 inches had fallen in Roanoke Rapids and about a third of an inch in Raleigh.

Heavy rain in those counties could cause creeks and streams to quickly flood roads, low-lying areas and places with poor drainage. Motorists shouldn't drive over flooded roads. 

High winds downed trees along Irene's path, blocking the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Halifax County at about 2:30 p.m., according to the state Department of Transportation. N.C. Highway 264 was littered with trees, but drivers were navigating around them.

A flash flood watch – meaning that floods could happen quickly, but the threat is less likely than for a warning – covers much of central and eastern North Carolina, including Wake, Franklin, Vance and Warren counties. The watch goes until 6 a.m. Sunday.

Rain fell for most of the day across the northern coastal plain. The rainfall totals, wind speeds, downed trees and potential for power outages will be greatest east of I-95.

More than 16 inches of rain fell in Beaufort County, where wind damaged the gymnasium roof at Bath Elementary School, causing water to pour inside.

Some flights out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport were cancelled, airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said. 

The majority of canceled flights were headed to John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York and to Newark, N.J. Sunday flights to those destinations were also being canceled.

Travelers should check with the airline before heading to the airport, Hamlin said.

All soccer games at WakeMed park in Cary have been canceled. The threat from Irene didn't deter hundreds of spectators and competitors from joining the , playing late into Friday.

 A wind advisory also covers Wake, Johnston, Durham and Cumberland counties until Sunday morning.

The Triangle will see sustained winds at about 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. Some spotty power outages or minor wind damage could result if winds toss around loose items and weak trees.

Areas along the I-95 corridor will see winds between 30 to 40 mph, with gusts between 50 to 60 mph. Widespread power outages, flooding, numerous downed trees and other wind damage is expected.

Experts advise inland residents to prepare for spotty power outages by gassing up cars and generators, moving lawn furniture and other items indoors and stocking up on bottled water and cash. When power goes out, gas pumps, ATMs and credit card readers won't work.

The effects of Hurricane Irene in the Triangle will diminish throughout Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday, weather conditions will be very different.

Sunday in the Triangle will be sunny, with a high around 94 degrees.